Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Complex Case with a Happy Ending

Home renovations can be a complex, confusing, and costly endeavour. A renovation advisor can help you save money and time. The following is a client testimonial (Original testimonial on HomeStars.com):
We hired a contractor for a complete house renovation top to bottom. 1.5 years later we found our house in shambles, no one showing up for work, our contractor overpaid and suddenly asking for over a hundred thousand dollars of additional money upfront to complete, we were basically hostages on our own property. We then hired Jay Charendoff of House Calls at this critical point in the project. He agreed to take us on and prepared an initial architect’s assessment, and comprehensive documentation on the initial state of the house. He discovered multiple foundation and construction deficiencies. He facilitated legal counsel to end our contract and found us a reputable contractor that was willing to step in and remediate and complete our project. Jay organized the remediation together with our contractor and was the liaison and communicator between our new contractor and us for the initial phases of the remediation. His construction knowledge and building code understanding reassured us that we were not getting into another problem. Our trust was solely on Jay to deliver and you can imagine it was at first a leap of faith out of desperation but very quickly (after our first meetings I think) we realized there was a way out and Jay would get us there. Jay also quickly organized a system for recording issues and took video and digital photographs to create a legal documentation trail that we are presently relying on to try to recoup our losses. He also found us a great kitchen supplier and was able to facilitate our release from the kitchen we initially had booked as they were connected with the first contractor and were also trying to deceive us. Jay’s fees were clearly laid out. The scope was fairly widespread as we were in remediation and we did not know what was going to come our way. We have found that Jay’s role has evolved throughout the project. From triage engineering consultant to finishing /build consultant to legal communications consultant. We are pretty dependent on Jay and his commitment to helping us to completion. Jay has a very good understanding of building construction, building codes and proper design. He has a keen eye for small details and this was significant and valuable to us in our situation. He knows a lot of suppliers in the home / commercial construction business and his previous experience in (worldwide) consulting has given us a wide network of resources to choose from. Our new House Calls referred contractor has an above code standard and delivered a contract and good clear pricing, first on a time and materials basis and then for finishing we broke each section into a separate contract and they kept to it . Jay has a systematic approach to listing and controlling financials that you can easily incorporate and rely on. We would recommend Jay Charendoff and House Calls in a heartbeat. We would not renovate or build another home without hiring Jay as our project consultant at the onset to avoid the losses we have incurred in this project. For busy people, it is not so much a luxury as a best practice to save money and peace of mind. Our home is complete now 9 months later and Jay has a standing invitation for lunch for life. :)

Monday, 31 October 2011

Home Renovation Advising - a Video Overview

For most homeowners, the thought of undertaking a renovation project is exhilarating: the possibilities are endless, and the chance to participate in reforming your own space is a wonderful dream. Reality TV shows regularly demonstrate how a home can be transformed from a “dump” to a “dream” in 30 or 60 convenient minutes.

The fact is, most homeowners are not familiar enough with the subtle technical complexities of design, budget, approval, contracts or construction to undertake a renovation project without professional help. For the realistic renovator, the excitement should properly include corresponding pinches of fear and the recognition that without expert guidance, the risk of failure is significantly higher as a solo artiste.

All the usual important questions arise: Where do I start? Who do I talk to first? Do I know what I want? What do I really need? How much will this cost? How can I accomplish almost as much, but for less? When can I start? What permits or approvals do I need before I start? How long will the project take to complete? What happens if I run into problems?

Our primary objectives in making your home renovation project successful are:

  • Through Project Management, provide a high level of protection to you, your project and your property, and
  • Optimize the value you receive from your contractor


  • We are your professional “eyes and ears” representing your interests. We make sure that your contractor is fulfilling his obligations correctly
  • We protect your investment in the project
  • We save you money by making appropriate, cost effective recommendations
  • We address issues ranging from setting up a proper budget, to technical problems, to conflicts with contractors
  • We help you get the job done right the first time
  • We’re there when you need us
  • We provide helpful project management and home renovation advice

Based in Toronto, Ontario, House Calls Project Management provide’s expert guidance on the three main phases of your project:

Pre-Construction: a) Data gathering: site plan review, zoning review: calculations and analysis, measured drawings of the existing premises. b) Design Development: budgeting development and financing strategies and options, space planning and design services, Scope of Work packages, tendering and bid assessment, contractor review and recommendation, building permit process
During Construction: Proper start up protocols, site safety, project monitoring for quality and schedule, site reviews, control of contractor, invoice accuracy, expenses, and
Post-Construction: deficiencies, site turn over, warranty items, final payments.
Project Management is a specialized craft: one that requires a delicate balance of personal sensitivity, technical expertise, and integrity, as well as a deep understanding of current construction techniques and an overview of the industry.

House Calls Project Management’s competitive fee rate is calculated on an hourly basis: you pay only for the time you use, thereby keeping costs to a minimum. Most importantly, the fee is not calculated as a percentage of the total cost of your project.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Do-It-Yourself Construction Tips

The cost of renovation and construction can account for one of the largest "investments" many of us will make during our lifetime.

Here are a few thoughts:

1) Savings on materials and labour are always appreciated, however one still needs a substantial knowledge base to distinguish between viable, appropriate materials for specific uses. For example, even something as seemingly basic as lumber needs to be chosen and utilized properly. Is it to be used for structural members or supports? Is the material to be used in exterior conditions, or in high humidity situations, on a roof, as sheathing, or for a floor? Where should pressure treated or new materials with termite treatment be used? What type of insulation offers the best cost/benefit? Is all insulation basically the same? Should some types of insulation not be used in certain situations? An expert will know the answers to these questions.

Some of these materials may appear to be more expensive, but they offer many advantages, so cannot be excluded on the basis of price alone. It's the same with a wide range of materials that one can purchase. Even drywall should be carefully selected to meet the requirements of the use. Not too long ago, millions of square feet of "bargain" drywall imported from China caused thousands of families in the New Orleans area (after Katrina) and throughout the States to become ill, as this material leached toxic hydrogen sulphide as it absorbed moisture over time.

2) Budget

My main focus in the early stages with my clients is centred around creating a budget that is 1) accurate, 2) reflective of the Scope of Work, 3) is affordable with respect to the other financial burdens the client is already carrying, and 4) appropriate in the context of the market within which the property is located. A proper budget should be based on a detailed Scope of Work, and include all construction related costs, any outside fees, consultants, and contingency. Only AFTER an accurate budget is established, can it be properly monitored and maintained.

3) Professional Help

How many of us would feel comfortable wandering through a mine field by ourselves? Knowing in advance that there are pros out there who will "hold you hand" and provide expert advice and guidance can save more than money: Time, energy, frustration, stress, lawsuits are a few words that come to mind.

In my business, I deal with a wide variety of situations, and it always surprises me when someone says " I wish I knew about your services before I started." The good news is that more and more homeowners are admitting to themselves that they do not have the skills to undertake even a modest reno. Even though the TV shows make it seem as if this work can be accomplished within 30 or 60 minutes, that is obviously not the case, so be aware of what you decide to take on, and who you decide to allow into your home. Even after assuming that your best friend is a pro, you must ensure that your personal liability coverage is modified to include occurances as per your insurer's advice during and after the reno. 

Note also that a Building Permit is a requirement for almost every project these days, and even if a Building Permit is not required (but this should be verified by your local authority), in Ontario the Electrical Safety Authority must be notified (by the Owner, if it is a DIY) of even the smallest adjustment to one's electrical system. In this case, it's totally about safety, not more bureaucracy.

If you are interested in knowing a little more about professional Renovation Advisors, please refer to my House Calls Project Management website.

Visit my website to learn more about residential construction project management at: 

Happy renovations!

Jay Charendoff

Rainwater and Stormwater Management at Home

A Cautionary Story for Home Owners: Preventative Steps for Storm and Rainwater Management

In this article, my primary concern is for owners who have recently complied with the City’s downspout disconnect program. They may think that because their downspouts are disconnected, that their property is now correctly and sufficiently drained.  However, this may not be the case, and further design and action may be required to achieve this.
In  2007, the City of Toronto’s free Downspout Disconnection Program ended, and a new Mandatory Downspout Disconnection Program commenced.  This required that all Toronto homeowners disconnect all downspouts by the end of 2009.
For many years, homeowners in urban areas such as Toronto, living in homes connected to stormwater lines, took it for granted that vast quantities roof-generated rain and snow melt water would conveniently collect in eavestroughs, and flow quickly through downspouts into the stormwater system.  This was, in fact, integral to the successful mechanical design of our housing stock when it was constructed.   Generally, homeowners could ignore the functioning of this system, unless moisture problems developed.  That is, until now.
It is now essential that owners familiarize themselves with the basic issues and some of the science of rainwater control, at least within the bounds of one’s own property.  It may not be as exciting as undertaking a new renovation, but poorly designed drainage control systems can eventually cause serious damage, and unless taken into consideration, can result in future expensive repairs that could easily undo all the good intentions of a beautiful interior renovation.
For those who do not understand the reasoning behind the City’s decision to disconnect downspouts, and who want to become more aware of the ecological benefits as well as a wider range of stormwater and sustainability issues, the City of Toronto has an excellent resource located at: http://www.riversides.org/rainguide/index.php This site also includes a “Do-It-Yourself” Downspout Disconnection Guide.
In contrast, homes in rural areas, or within smaller towns or municipalities that do not have stormwater infrastructure are not affected by this program, of course.  Homeowners in these areas have had no choice but to rely upon their own regular, pro-active observance of rainwater behaviour on their property, and over the years, likely have developed appropriate solutions to control surface runoff and drainage, thus minimizing potential damage to land and buildings on their property.
Where does all that water go?
To avoid property damage, urban owners must now become more acutely aware of the next critical step. Once the downspouts have been disconnected, all the snowmelt or rainwater collected by one’s roof is now directed to one of two places: either stormwater is allowed to infiltrate (soak into the ground), or it is stored for later use (a separate topic for a future article).
The focus of this article is on infiltration/distribution, as I believe this is the most likely source of potential problems around the home.   From personal observation, I’ve noticed that disconnected downspouts and their extensions are routinely dumped anywhere from 3’ to 10’ away from the original stormwater connection.  While this may appear to be correct, it is only by carefully observing rain water behaviour over time, and during periods of heavy rain or snow melt that one can actually determine whether the placement is, in fact, effective. As a proactive owner, consultant and designer, this is not only an area of personal interest, but one that I have studied.  However, (and this is completely understandable), not all owners are able to make this level of commitment, this level of detailed observation, and not all owners are physically capable of making the next necessary steps.
In my own case, I disconnected my stormlines, and used a 4” PVC pipe extension to the downspouts.  I prefer PVC over aluminum because it is extremely tough, will not crush or dent, and the large diameter and smooth interior finish allows roof debris (leaves, etc.) to flow with less likelihood of becoming blocked.  It is also inexpensive, comes with standard joint connections, and can easily be worked with simple tools.  Lastly, joints need not be permanently welded with adhesive to be effective, and this gives them the flexibility to be re-adjusted at any time, while still performing as needed.  PVC comes in two basic colours, black or white, so for style-conscious individuals this may be an issue.
At first, I extended the drain line approximately 10’ from the original storm connection.  I thought this would be sufficient, however after the first big storm, I was forced to add another 4’ accordion-type extension.  Even after careful placement, after the next storm, I realized that because of a subtle, barely visible dip in the front yard within 8 feet of my exterior walls, stormwater would tend to form a large pool about 3” deep, rather than drain away quickly, as I had expected.  With drainage, it may require more than a single step to get it 100% right.  This led me to add the final piece, an infiltration trench, across my front yard in order to achieve correct and positive drainage.
An infiltration trench is a surface drainage feature that directs stormwater flow into a trench filled with stones.  Trenches can be 30cm to 1m deep, 60cm to 1 m wide, and can be any length depending on the amount of water. They are sloped to direct water from one end to the other, and are used to direct water away from sensitive areas to another permeable surface or stormwater management system.
What are the Benefits?
  • Simple, low cost and effective managing large amounts of stormwater on your property.
  • Can be incorporated into existing landscaping.
  • Ideal for major storm events as it both infiltrates and can convey water to other infiltration and storage systems.
  • Work well with other stormwater management systems.
The main point of this story
If I had simply assumed that my first solution was correct, and not maintained a vigilant attitude, I could have experienced more severe water-related damage including deterioration of masonry and foundations, mould, decay and other moisture-related issues. My concern here is for owners who have now had City disconnects, and who assume that their property is now correctly and sufficiently drained.  This may not be the case, and further design and action may be required to achieve this. Carefully note the following disclaimer from the City, and their wise advice to engage a trained specialist for this type of service:
DISCLAIMER (from the City of Toronto)
The City cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information or its application to any particular property. Readers should where possible verify the information before acting on it. Where appropriate, professional advice and service should be sought from a knowledgeable and licensed contractor or civil engineer.
While we endeavour to provide accurate information, it is provided strictly “as is” and the City makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, currency, or suitability of the information provided. Readers relying on this information and this web site do so entirely at their own risk. In no event will the City of Toronto be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken by you or anyone else in reliance on this information. The City does not accept and specifically disclaims any and all liability for any injury, loss or damage whatsoever incurred as a result of the use of, reliance on, the information provided by the City and in no event will the City, its Councillors, officers, directors, employees or contractors be liable to you or to any third party for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, special or exemplary damages or lost profit, including any property damage or loss or personal injury, associated with, resulting from or arising out of any use or misuse of this information.
A few Tips…
  • Direct the stormwater to a storage device or a permeable surface like a lawn, garden or infiltration system.
  • Do NOT direct stormwater onto another impermeable surface like a driveway, sidewalk or paved path where it will simply run off the surface and into the stormsewer.
  • Direct flow away from your (and your neighbour’s) house foundation – approx. 1.5 meters away.
  • Avoid creating soil erosion – use a splash pad Splash pads are pads, (pavers, bricks, etc.), placed beneath the outflow of a downspout to dissapate energy and stop erosion. so the strong current of water does not erode the soil.
Natural Drainage: Observe the natural drainage patterns on your property after a storm, including the paths where water runs, and where water pools. Choose a low point for your stormwater landscape solution, or a location somewhere along the natural flow path. If your yard is relatively flat and evenly drained, you can create a depression anywhere,
Vulnerable Areas: To avoid creating moisture problems, you will need to direct stormwater away from vulnerable areas, such as your house foundation or neighbouring homes. Direct stormwater at least 1.5m from the foundation of your house, and locate a stormwater management system at least 4 m from your house unless overflow is directed further (e.g. with a trench or swale).
Call Before You Dig: Before starting any excavation project, it is your responsibility to locate any underground utilities on your property. Most utilities can be reached by calling the free service Ontario One Call or 0N1Call at least one week prior to digging. Some utility providers are not participants in this free service and need to be contacted directly; check your utility bill for the Ontario1Call symbol or a contact number for excavation information.
  • The only maintenance required is to clean eavestroughs and downspouts twice annually to keep them clear of leaves and debris. Installing leaf guards and filters will make this easier, but will add to the initial costs.
  • Replace downspouts, eavestroughs and crumpled pipes when needed to ensure clear flow.

Visit my website to learn more about residential construction project management at: 

Figuring Renovation Costs

How do you figure out what your renovation will cost? How much should it cost? How do you set an appropriate budget? What is the likely payback at resale? How can you maximize your return on investment?

This section lays out the main factors that influence the economics of your renovation.
Renovation Cost Will Vary By…
  • Type of renovation
  • Materials used
  • Geographic market
  • Finishes used
  • Resources used
  • Cost of permits
  • Cost of cleanup
  • Contingencies/unexpected
  • Move or stay/storage
  • Your time invested
  • Eating out or ordering in
At its simplest, cost is a function of materials, time and labor, and local market conditions. Getting multiple estimates will give you a better idea of what to expect.  A good rule of thumb is this – whatever amount you’re zeroing in on – multiply it by a factor of 1.25 to 1.5 to cover changes, contingencies, and Murphy’s Law.  Seasoned remodelers know that the unexpected always occurs, so just go ahead and plan for it.
If you’re like most of us, your list of needs and wants will exceed your ability to foot the bill. While the actual cost of renovation varies tremendously, you still need to establish a budget.  Generally, 20% to 30% of the value of your home is an acceptable amount to invest. For example, if your house is appraised at $200,000, it’s reasonable to invest another $40,000 to $60,000 in improvements.
Factor in some of the following:

  • What you may have set aside
  • What you can borrow and the interest rate you can get
  • What is a reasonable monthly payment?
  • How long you plan to live in the home
Maximizing the Return On Your Investment
How do you know if your investment is going to pay off? You may not be planning to sell any time soon, but you want some idea if you’ll recoup your renovation dollars.  If you are looking at resale soon, consider renovations that give you the most bang for your buck.
What do the experts say about the best value for your renovation dollar?  Annual cost versus value reports, surveying some 60 markets across the U.S. show that when it comes to payback, the following renovations have the highest return on investment:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Re-siding (for curb appeal)
  • Master suite additions
  • Attic bedrooms.
When looking at these statistics, remember that the values in your local area or particular situation may differ.

Unforeseen Structural Problems

Until you open the floors and the walls, you can never be sure how much it will cost if you are renovating an older house.  Adding a second or third floor to an existing home, or lowering the existing basement floor slab will require specific structural design solutions provided by a registered structural engineer.   When buying a home, keep in mind that a typical house inspection cannot find all the problems.

Unrealistic Budgets

Most homeowners do not know how expensive building their ideal house can be. Construction prices have increased a lot over the last decade. And quality craftsmanship costs money. Plus there is a shortage of manpower in most urban cities.
We heard of a man who was building a mansion and was proud to be right on budget in the early stages of construction, even though he was told that he had underestimated the total cost.   Never bust your budget on the rough of a new construction. The challenges come with the finishes and the interior design.
So if you wish for the $1 million look at a quarter of the price, you need to be really careful on where you splurge.  Splurge on things that require lots of time and money to replace and wait until later to upgrade the things that are easy to replace, like the bathroom fixtures.

Being Carried Away

When you go tile shopping, it is easy to say it is just $2 dollar more a square feet. Or why not add a pattern or a border. You need to take into account that the expense does not stop there. When you mix two ceramics, it adds complexity to the installation.  Adding just three square border shapes on a bathroom floor seems simple, yet it will take a good tile man almost a full day to align things perfectly with the change of dimensions.
There are plenty of occasions to add a few hundreds of dollars in a big renovation job; so extras add up fast.

Lack of Planning

Based on years of experience, I believe the best way to not bust your budget is to carefully plan everything in advance. This way, you eliminate costly building mistakes (ex: changing twice the position of a wall) and you reduce the chance to be carried away.
Better planning makes sure that you get what you really want and that the ensemble is cohesive. My best advice is to examine and evaluate many times the entire plan and all the finishes before you start building. You may need to do some demolition to grasp the full potential first. But it is a small price to pay to get the house of your dreams on budget.

Visit my website to learn more about residential construction project management at: